Jesse Biddle's comeback trail brings him back to a familiar place

Jesse Biddle's comeback trail brings him back to a familiar place

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Prospect status in the game of baseball is fragile and unpredictable.
 
A reminder of that walked down the tunnel from the visiting clubhouse and sat in the first-base dugout at Spectrum Field late Saturday morning.
 
Jesse Biddle had come back to the place where it all started.
 
He still had that friendly smile and effervescent personality. But the uniform was different and the elbow had a surgical scar on it.
 
Now a member of the Atlanta Braves organization, the former Phillies first-round draft pick made the trip to Clearwater and for the first time since August 13, 2015 -- the night the elbow pain became too much to bear -- pitched an inning in a competitive game.
 
It all seemed just a little surreal that Biddle's first game since having surgery on October 14, 2015, came against the organization that he spent six sometimes hopeful, sometimes frustrating seasons with, but as the left-hander, now 25, pointed out, "It's just one of those things. The baseball world is pretty funny that way."
 
The Phillies sent Biddle to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a nondescript trade in February 2016 and he was claimed on waivers by the Braves a couple of months later. For days, he'd known that the schedule called for him to pitch Saturday, but he was unsure whether it would be at home against the Marlins or on the road against the Phillies. He found out Friday that he'd be making the trip to Clearwater and was elated.
 
"At the end of the day I just want to pitch in a game for the first time in a long time," he said. "But I was definitely rooting for this one, for sure.
 
"I feel really good and I'm excited to face these red jerseys, for sure."
 
Biddle engaged in some light-hearted "trash-talking" via text with former teammate Tommy Joseph on Friday night and as if on cue, Joseph was the first hitter that Biddle faced since that night 18 months ago when his elbow throbbed and he was throwing 83 mph for the Phillies' Triple A team.
 
Biddle walked Joseph on five pitches then came back and struck out Dylan Cozens on a 93 mph fastball and Aaron Altherr on a 94 mph fastball. He ended his inning of work by getting J.P. Crawford on a groundout.
 
It was a very nice outing for any pitcher, never mind one with a surgically repaired elbow pitching for the first time in a year and half.

Cozens and Crawford are what Biddle used to be -- top prospects with the Phillies.
 
Prospects excite the imagination of fans. The excitement that followed Biddle during his time in the Phillies' system had a little extra electricity because he was a local kid who had grown up in Mount Airy, who had attended the 2008 World Series as a fan, who had pitched at Germantown Friends and who had been selected by his hometown team with the 27th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
 
He topped out in Triple A with the club in 2015, his path to Citizens Bank Park blocked by poor control and the elbow injury.
 
Biddle said he was surprised when the Phillies traded him, but he came to terms with it quickly.
 
"Once I got (to Pittsburgh) and I actually put on a different uniform, I realized that there are 29 other teams and that there are a lot of really good coaches out there and a lot of places that I'm happy to be part of," he said. "And now I've found my way to the Braves and it feels like home, really. It's been a really nice journey and I'm glad I found my way here."
 
It's never easy for a highly touted young player to succeed in his hometown. The expectations are high from the start. Add in the presence of family and friends living and breathing on every pitch and the expectations can be smothering.
 
But Biddle said the pressures of trying to succeed at home were never a problem for him.
 
"Honestly, the more I look back on it the more I realize it was just like anywhere else," he said. "Obviously it was a little different for me playing minor-league baseball and having friends and family be able to come to every game, but I really don’t believe it dictated anything that happened while I was here.
 
"I think that any love and support that I got was just friends and family being friends and family and I couldn’t have asked for anything different from the Phillies or anything different from my support system.
 
"It ended up working out the way it did and there are no hard feelings anywhere. I'm really happy with where I'm at and I know the Phillies' organization is looking really good right now."
 
The Braves have shown faith in Biddle. They claimed him on waivers a year ago, put him on their 40-man roster and paid him the major-league minimum salary of $507,500 even though they knew he wouldn't throw a pitch in 2016. They viewed him as a lottery ticket, a still-young pitcher with raw talent that had a chance to put it together.
 
Biddle spent all of last year at the Braves' facility in Florida, rehabbing his elbow after Tommy John surgery. The Braves will continue to go slow with him for the next few months. He will get his innings in the minors and, who knows, might still end up pitching at Citizens Bank Park someday, just not with the team he originally dreamed of representing.
 
"Honestly, I just want to play major league baseball," Biddle said. "And I want to play for the Braves."

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge hits mammoth homer in Yankees' win over Mets

ap-yankees-aaron-judge.jpg
AP Images

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge hits mammoth homer in Yankees' win over Mets

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge launched a titanic homer, Didi Gregorius snapped a seventh-inning tie with a two-run double and the New York Yankees beat the Mets 5-3 on Wednesday night for their third straight victory in the Subway Series.

After taking the first two matchups in the Bronx this week, the Yankees kept up their winning ways when the crosstown rivalry shifted to Queens. Judge enjoyed his first game at Citi Field, hitting a solo drive into the rarely reached third deck in left.

Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes never even budged as Judge's AL-leading 37th home run, projected at 457 feet, soared way over his head.

The rookie slugger also singled and scored on Chase Headley's sacrifice fly. But he struck out in the ninth inning to extend a dubious streak: Judge has fanned in 33 consecutive games, three shy of the record for a position player set by Adam Dunn from 2011-2012 (see full recap).

Alonso, Rzepczynski help seal Mariners’ victory
SEATTLE -- Recently acquired Yonder Alonso hit his first homer for Seattle and drove in three runs, and Marc Rzepczynski struck out Chris Davis with the bases loaded to end the Mariners' 7-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday.

Alonso, acquired in a trade with Oakland on Aug. 6, hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning, his 23rd of the season. He added an RBI single during a three-run fifth and also singled in the seventh.

Leonys Martin opened the sixth with his third home run to put Seattle up 7-4.

Seattle closer Edwin Diaz came on in the ninth and walked the first three hitters. Manny Machado followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 7-5, but Martin prevented an extra-base hit with a sensational diving catch in right field.

Diaz struck out Jonathan Schoop, but then hit both Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo to force in another run. Rzepczynski relieved and fanned Davis on three pitches for his first save.

Tony Zych (6-3) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief. Ubaldo Jimenez (5-8) allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Gordon’s single in 9th lifts Royals over A’s
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Alex Gordon hit a go-ahead RBI single in the top of the ninth after Oakland tied it in the bottom of the eighth, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Athletics 7-6 on Wednesday.

Alcides Escobar doubled to start the ninth against Blake Treinen (1-1), matching his season high with three hits. Then Gordon delivered his second run-scoring single of the series finale.

Oakland's Matt Chapman hit a tying two-run homer in the eighth against Brandon Maurer (1-1), who wound up the winner.

Lorenzo Cain hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Danny Duffy struck out eight over five innings but the Royals couldn't hold a late lead again before holding on -- a day after squandering a four-run advantage in a 10-8 defeat.

Cain added a key RBI single in the eighth for the Royals, who began the day tied with Minnesota six games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta takes his 'demotion' in stride after putting up big strikeout totals

Nick Pivetta takes his 'demotion' in stride after putting up big strikeout totals

SAN DIEGO — Odubel Herrera has missed the Phillies' last two games with a sore left hamstring and the team could sure use his bat.

Will he be available Thursday in San Francisco?

Herrera was asked about his condition as he hurried out of the clubhouse and off to the team bus after Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the San Diego Padres (see Instant Replay).

"Better," he said, indicating some improvement.

Could he play in the next day or so?

"Maybe," he said.

As a contingency, the Phillies will add a position player — Brock Stassi makes sense — to their roster for Thursday's game while they continue to evaluate Herrera. If Herrera can't go in a couple of days, he could end up on the disabled list. He injured the hamstring late in Monday night's game. He improved his hitting streak to 17 games earlier that night.

In order to add a player to the roster without placing Herrera on the DL, the Phillies had to clear a roster spot. They took the unusual step of sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A moments after he struck out a career-high 11 batters on Wednesday.

It appears to be simply a procedural move. The Phillies play a doubleheader Tuesday against Miami and will be allowed to add a 26th man that day. Ordinarily, a player sent to the minors could not return for 10 days unless he replaces an injured player. By rule, Pivetta could come back and be the 26th man on Tuesday. He then would have to return to Triple A to complete the 10-day stint in the minors. The bottom line is he might not even miss a turn in the major-league rotation.

"With Herrera on the blocks, not knowing where he's at, we need a position player," Mackanin said. "With the doubleheader coming up, we have the option of adding an extra pitcher on the 22nd. So that's the reasoning there."

Pivetta took the move in stride.

"It is what it is," the 24-year-old righty said. "I know about as much as you guys. I'm going to go down and work hard. It will be fine. I'm going to be back up eventually. So we'll just keep moving day by day there."

Pivetta struck out eight of the first nine batters he faced on Wednesday. When the ninth batter, rival pitcher Clayton Richard, came to the plate, he asked catcher Cameron Rupp a question.

"Did he strike everybody out?" Richard asked.

Richard struck out, but eventually got the upper hand. He pitched a three-hit shutout to finish off a San Diego sweep (see story).

"It looked to me like Pivetta was going to have a Kerry Wood performance today," Mackanin said. "Eight strikeouts in the first three innings. He ended up with 11. He threw a lot of good secondary stuff for strikes, which is one of the goals we're working on for him to do. He carried it for a while. He needs to understand how to continue to carry that through five, six, seven or even eight innings. 

"He's a young pitcher. It's his first year in the big leagues. He's going to get it. He's going to be good. He needs to learn how to sustain that through more than five or six innings. That's when you get to be a real solid starter."